The grim science fiction film depicts a world in which no one can sleep. What could possibly go wrong?
The insipid new Netflix thriller Awake is so distractingly and sleepily half-assed that viewing it is nearly as tedious as writing about it. There’s nothing here that hasn’t already been done, and it’s a film that lumbers up to the table with absolutely empty hands.
It’s easy to understand why Awake, which will be released on Netflix on Wednesday, is being dubbed the “new Bird Box”: Gina Rodriguez plays a mother who is trying to safeguard her children from a bizarre, unexpected catastrophe that sends the world into disarray. Does this ring a bell?
The premise is a little more ridiculous than it sounds: the power goes out one day, and an unusual side effect is that people can’t sleep. Life without sleep progresses from annoying to difficult to dangerous, yet as terrifying as this deprivation may be in real life, it’s a totally worthless ploy to use as the centerpiece of an ostensibly terrifying apocalyptic picture. The script, based on a tale by Gregory Poirier, whose lackluster credentials include See Spot Run and The Spy Next Door, isn’t smart enough to do anything with the set-up other than utilize it as a jumping-off point for a monotonous road trip to probable safety.
We follow a family lead by Jill (Gina Rodriguez), a problematic single mother who works in surveillance and sells stolen medications on the side, as they travel throughout the United States, trying to keep her two semi-estranged children safe. What renders their situation even more dangerous is that her daughter can still sleep for unexplained reasons, implying that many around her are willing to sacrifice and/or experiment on her. Along the way, they meet individuals portrayed by performers who deserve so much better, including Frances Fisher, Barry Pepper, Shamier Anderson, and, most depressingly, Jennifer Jason Leigh, who plays a perhaps malicious psychiatrist.
Surprisingly, there isn’t a single shot of someone sipping coffee. We also don’t see what’s going on in the rest of the globe, since a shortage of electricity prevents us from seeing the obligatory news broadcasts of burning buildings.
However, this adds grit to the proceedings, as Alan Poon’s dismal cinematography, a regular partner with Canadian indie filmmaker Mark Raso, discreetly conveys the danger looming through vehicle windows or in the distance. Unintentionally humorous and menacing is a swarm of nude sunset worshippers who block a road.
Overall, striking a balance between harshness and warmth is a genuine challenge. Awake is constantly dismal, saved by a few odd efforts at comedy (from other characters). The personal moments aren’t enough of a reprieve from humanity’s depressingly dismal outlook. The tune, icy photography, and dark tone wonderfully portray the persistent droning pound of sleep deprivation if that was the intention.
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